Duchess of Devonshire’s personal collection sells for £1.8m at Sotheby’s auction

The Duchess of Devonshire

The Duchess of Devonshire

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A RARE first edition of Brideshead Revisited, given to Deborah Mitford by its author and her good friend Evelyn Waugh, has fetched more than £50,000 at auction.

The popular novel, published in 1945, was sold for £52,500 at an all-day auction of the Duchess of Devonshire’s personal collection at Sotheby’s.

Set in the period between the First and Second World Wars, the book is one 50 early copies distributed to the author’s inner circle prior to general publication - inviting their suggestions and revisions.

It is one of the rare few signed by Waugh, with the message inside reading: “Debo & Andrew | with love from | Evelyn | A very old fashioned story”.

Predicted to fetch between £15,000 and £20,000, the novel ended up selling for more than double.

More than 1,000 bidders registered for the auction and 450 items went under the hammer, achieving a total sale value of £1.8m.

The pre-sale estimate for all lots was for between £500,000 and £700,000.

Most of the items up for auction hailed from The Old Vicarage, the 19th century house on the Chatsworth Estate where the Duchess spent the last 10 years of her life.

The most expensive item was a late 19th century gilt-decorated statue from Japan, which was brought to England by the Duchess’s grandfather, Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford, and sold for £62,500.

Other notable sells include the Duchess’s Elvis Presley memorabilia collection, containing a novelty singing and dancing Elvis telephone, and which fetched more than £4,000.

A photograph of Lucien Freud, grandson of Sigmund Freud, painting Queen Elizabeth in his studio in 2001 was auctioned off for £10,000.

The youngest of the Mitford Sisters, the Duchess became one of the most loved figures of the 20th-century.

For half a century the chatelaine of Chatsworth, one of England’s greatest stately homes, she was an instinctive entrepreneur, patron of the arts, author, countrywoman and – famously – a great poultry enthusiast.

Her friends included President Kennedy, Winston Churchill, Lucian Freud, Evelyn Waugh, Alan Bennett, members of The Royal Family, Hubert de Givenchy, Oscar de la Renta and Cecil Beaton.

The family of Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire, said: “Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire was always interested in and excited by the auction process, so we can guess how much she would have enjoyed today’s sale. It was very pleasing to see her personal collection received so warmly at Sotheby’s. She would have loved the idea that many people from all over the world will now enjoy some of the pieces she lived with. We have been hugely impressed by the professionalism and enthusiasm of the team at Sotheby’s, and are very grateful for their efforts on our behalf.”

Henry Wyndham, Chairman of Sotheby’s Europe and Auctioneer for much of today’s sale, said: “Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire represented the last of a special era – I can’t think of anyone left who has quite the same charisma. She enjoyed the friendship of some of the most celebrated and interesting figures of the 20th-century. She knew the world, and everyone knew her. It was wonderful, but perhaps unsurprising, to see her collection received so rapturously today. I am sure the Duchess would have been quietly amused by the whole event, but most of all would have been pleased to see her belongings find brand new homes where they’ll be treasured.”

Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire’s archive of personal correspondence – letters, books, manuscripts and documents relating to the Mitford sisters – has been left to Chatsworth House Trust, together with her collection of couture clothing. These archives will be accessible to the public in due course.

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